Being asked to give a eulogy is a great honor, but it can also be daunting. Finding the right words to mark the passing of a friend or family member's life is difficult when emotions run high. There is no right or wrong way to write a eulogy, but each tribute has a basic flow. The speech doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to be come from the heart.
Eulogy for a Friend
Thank you all for coming to help us celebrate Liza's life and share our grief at her passing.
My name is Carol, and Liza and I have been best friends since childhood. We lived just five houses apart on National Avenue, and we spent part of nearly every day together as kids.
When I think of Liza as a child, I remember how much she loved exploring the ravine behind our house. Half of our summers were spent wandering through the woods, looking for crayfish under rocks along the creek, climbing trees, and generally doing things that would have given our parents gray hair much sooner if they knew what we had been up to each day.
I have to share one memory that really illustrates Liza's fearless, and sometimes impulsive, nature. Some of the neighborhood boys had built a rope swing in a tree along the ravine's edge. Liza, being fearless, decided to give it a try.
As she swung out over the edge, one of the boys jokingly called out, "Jump!" My heart leapt to my throat as I saw Liza let go of the rope on her next swing out. Luckily she wound up with nothing more than skinned knees and a sheepish grin that said she couldn't believe she had just done that, but it just goes to show what a risk taker she was.
More than a simple risk taker, Liza also had a generous soul, as I'm sure many of you here this morning can attest to. She never met a person in need that she didn't find some way of helping. Her work as director of our local family shelter became her greatest passion, and she put in tireless hours organizing meals and places where "her families" could all stay together until they could get back on their feet. I say, "her families" with all seriousness because she didn't just take them into shelters; she really took them into her heart and kept contact with them even after their lives were back on track.
Mention of Family/Friends
When you combine the facts that Liza was a compassionate soul and willing to take risks, it's not difficult to understand why she ventured out in that terrible snowstorm on Wednesday night to try to take food and diapers to one of her families in need. Yes, maybe they would have been alright until morning, but that wasn't how Liza would have thought about it. She would have worried about their empty stomachs and imagined the sound of that baby's crying. She would have set any thoughts for her safety aside and gone to their aid, and that's exactly what she did.
Of course, we now know that she never made it to that family. We can second guess Liza's decision with 20/20 hindsight, or we can embrace the fact that she died doing something she believed in so deeply. Knowing her as I did, I can tell you that her only regret about her decision to go out on the road that night would have been that her husband, Mitch, is now left to carry on without her. As passionate as she was about her shelter work, Mitch was truly the love of her life.
It may comfort us all a bit to realize that Liza is now reunited with her beloved parents, Lee and Meredith, and that someday we'll all be together again when we cross over to the other side. This is only a brief parting in the larger scheme of life.
One thing you may or may not know is that Liza was a huge fan of the band Queen. She particularly loved a song called Dear Friends, and she once made me promise that if she passed before I did, I would play the song at her memorial, or at least read the lyrics. So, I'll read those now in closing, and I hope they leave you with the message that time will heal our wounds, and that life truly does go on.
Eulogy for a Parent
Welcome and Introduction
For anyone who may not know me, my name is Jean, and I am Rita's eldest daughter. Thank you all for coming her today to help us say goodbye to Mom.
To me, Mom was my guiding light. She set the example of what a good wife, mother and friend should be. She always did her best to be patient with all of her children, and there were five of us, so that was no easy feat. She tried to carve out some quality time with each of us, and believe me, we were all jealous when it was someone else's turn. However, that just shows you how much we all loved her and wanted that one-on-one time with Mom. When it was your turn, you found out that she hadn't really missed out on anything that was going on in your life, she just hadn't talked with you about it yet.
As for her life with Dad, she set a shining example of the kind of unconditional love required to see a marriage through good times and bad. I remember when Dad lost his job at the auto factory. He was so worried about finding work, and he felt he was letting Mom and all of us down because he couldn't provide for us. Mom gave him a big hug and told him she had no doubt that he would find another job that was as good or better than the one at the factory, and she took a job as a cashier at the grocery store to help tide us over until he found work again, this time as a manager in another factory instead of just working on the line. That was Mom; always an optimist, always willing to pitch in and do whatever was needed, all the time truly believing that things would work out in the end.
Mom was also a fantastic friend. She always saw the good in people, and if she saw the bad, she certainly didn't gossip about it. If you needed her, she was there and asking what she could do to help. I remember how she helped Mrs. Johnson get back and forth to work one week when her car was in the shop. When her best friend Mary needed a new pair of glasses and didn't have quite enough money, Mom insisted on loaning her the rest. Mom was there for all the highs and lows of her friends lives, and I think the size of the gathering here is a testament to how much they all loved her.
Mention of Family
As much as I'd like to think I was Mom's favorite child, I know she truly didn't have one. We were all her favorite in one way or another. She always used to talk about what a wonderful artist our sister Ellie is. Our eldest brother Mark was her dependable child. She said God had "built Mark solid," and she was thankful she could lean upon him if she needed to. She adored our brother Greg's sense of humor since it was so like her own. They shared many a private laugh together about things that went over the rest of our heads. Callie was her "quiet one." Mom said that whenever Callie was especially quiet, that meant she was thinking up a storm on the inside.
As for me, Mom always said I was the keep of the family chronicles because of my habit of journaling every night before I went to bed. She'd come in to say goodnight, and I'd let her read the day's entry. I think that must have been what inspired her request that I speak to you all today.
As you all know, Mom had a great deal of faith and rarely missed Sunday Mass. One hymn was her particular favorite, and I remember how she used to light up whenever Be Not Afraid was sung at Mass. She truly believed that she could "pass through raging waters in the sea and not drown" because God was with her the entire time. I know that's how she felt about her battle with cancer. She knew that even if the cancer won, God would be there with her to carry her safely to Heaven. In honor of Mom's faith and her life, I'd like us all to sing that hymn together now...
Eulogy for a Child
Welcome and Introduction
Thank you all for joining us here today, although I'm sure many of us wish we were gathering in celebration rather than in mourning. My name is Julie. I am Lisa's aunt, and I'll be speaking on behalf of Lisa's parents, my sister Gwen and her husband Mike.
I remember the day Lisa was born. She was the most beautiful little baby you could ever hope to see, and she was an especially wonderful blessing to Gwen and Mike who had struggled for years to have a family. With this one child, all their prayers had been answered.
Lisa was by all accounts an easy baby to raise. She was sleeping through the night by the time she was three months old, and she had a naturally happy disposition. Anytime someone new would enter the room, baby Lisa would give a great big smile and stretch out her arms to offer a welcoming hug. Of course, this instantly endeared her to everyone who ever came in contact with her. Lisa was definitely meant to bring love into this world for the all-too-short time we would have with her.
In light of how desperately Lisa was wanted and loved by her parents, as well as everyone here today, it's difficult to understand why her life had to end so soon. It's nearly inconceivable that God would allow a young child to become ill and suffer, let alone die. When you look at it that way, it's easy to be angry at God for taking back the gift He gave. I choose to look at it another way.
God saw how dearly Mike and Gwen wanted to know the joy of having a child of their own, and even though it might not have been meant to be, he gave Lisa to their keeping for a short time so they could know that joy. When Lisa became ill and her suffering was too much to bear, he scooped her up to Heaven, and all her suffering was gone. I believe she now waits patiently for the day when her parents will join her, and they will all live happily together once again. I believe that she would want us all to dwell on the happy times we shared with her, and let the sad memories fade.
At this time, I'd like to offer you all the opportunity to share some of your favorite memories of Lisa's brief life.
Tips for Writing a Eulogy
Eulogies need not be long; the average length is between three and five minutes. You don't want to overwhelm those in attendance by speaking any longer that this. The key here is to be honest with your feelings and thoughts.
A eulogy should include:
- Give your personal sentiments
- Discuss happier times with the deceased person; include anecdotes and real-life experiences (avoid anything that might be considered offensive or vulgar)
- Describe the person's character
- Talk about family and friends left behind
- Close with a memorable song or poem
You should always draft a copy of your speech and, if possible, rehearse it in front of someone. Make sure you print a copy of the eulogy and give a second copy to someone who can act as a backup in case you get sick or are overcome with emotion.
Ideas for Content
Don't try to write the eulogy in the order that you'll give it. It's easier to begin by jotting down your thoughts about various aspects of the deceased's life. Think about the following points and see if anything springs to mind. If it does, write that now, and then you can put things in the order you want them later.
- A short introduction about yourself and relationship to the person who died
- A brief biography of the deceased person
- Information about his or her career
- Remarks about his or her family, friends and pets
- List of achievements
- Favorite songs or poems
- Information about hobbies or interests
- Personal stories or anecdotes
- Memories from years gone by
Delivering the Speech
Funerals and memorials are very difficult times. It's okay to cry and share your emotions while delivering your tribute. However, don't try to memorize your speech. It's best to keep your notes in outline form or on note cards for reference to help you stay on track and to ensure that you cover all of the key points that you plan to bring up.
"Today I want every American to see how these men and women lived," President Obama said Sunday, eulogizing the 12 men and women killed in the Washington Navy Yard shooting. He spoke of volunteers who made time to give back to their communities, like "Frank Kohler, giving dictionaries to every third-grader in his county," and "Marty Bodrog, leading the children's Bible study at church." There were fathers like Mike Ridgell, "coaching his daughters' softball teams and joining Facebook just to keep up with his girls, one of whom said he was always the cool dad." There were mothers like Mary Francis Knight, "devoted to her daughters ... who had just recently watched with joy as her older daughter got married," and grandparents like John Johnson, "always smiling, giving bear hugs to his 10 grandchildren ... who would have welcomed his 11th grandchild this fall."
Have you noticed that when people die, their eulogies celebrate life very differently from the way we define success in our everyday existence? Eulogies are, in fact, very Third Metric. At HuffPost we've made the Third Metric -- redefining success beyond money and power to include well-being, wisdom and our ability to wonder and to give -- a key editorial focus. But while it's not hard to live a Third Metric life, it's very easy not to. It's easy to let ourselves get consumed by our work. It's easy to use work to let ourselves forget the things and the people that truly sustain us. It's easy to let technology wrap us in a perpetually harried, stressed-out existence. It's easy, in effect, to miss our lives even while we're living them. Until we're no longer living them.
For most of us, our eulogy will be not just the first formal marking down of what our lives were about but the only one. The eulogy is the foundational document of our legacy, of how people remember us, of how we live on in the minds and hearts of others. And it is very telling what you don't hear in eulogies. You almost never hear things like:
"Of course his crowning achievement was when he made senior vice president."
"What everybody loved most about her was how she ate lunch at her desk. Every day."
"He was proud that he never made it to one of his kid's Little League games because he always wanted to go over those figures one more time."
"She didn't have any real friends, but she had 600 Facebook friends, and she dealt with every email in her inbox every night."
"But he will live on, not in our hearts or memories, because we barely knew him, but in his PowerPoint slides, which were always meticulously prepared."
No matter how much a person spends his or her life burning the candle at both ends, chasing a toxic definition of success and generally missing out on life, the eulogy is always about the other stuff: what they gave, how they connected, how much they meant to the lives of the real people around them, small kindnesses, lifelong passions and what made them laugh.
So the question is: Why do we spend so much time on what our eulogy is not going to be?
"Eulogies aren't résumés," David Brooks wrote in June. "They describe the person's care, wisdom, truthfulness and courage. They describe the million little moral judgments that emanate from that inner region."
And yet we spend so much time and effort and energy on those résumé entries, which are gone as soon as our heart stops beating. Even for those who die with amazing résumés, whose lives were synonymous with accomplishment and achievement, their eulogies are mostly about what they did when they weren't achieving and succeeding -- at least by our current, broken definition of success. For example, look at Steve Jobs, a man whose life, at least as the public saw it, was about creating things, things that were, yes, amazing and game-changing, but when his sister, Mona Simpson, rose to memorialize him at his memorial service at Stanford University, that's not what she focused on.
Yes, she talked about his work and his work ethic, but mostly as manifestations of his passions. "Steve worked at what he loved," she said. But what really moved him, what he really loved, was love. "Love was his supreme virtue," she said, "his god of gods." And though yes, he loved his work, he loved his family too:
When [his son] Reed was born, he began gushing and never stopped. He was a physical dad, with each of his children. He fretted over Lisa's boyfriends and Erin's travel and skirt lengths and Eve's safety around the horses she adored.
And then she added this touching image: "None of us who attended Reed's graduation party will ever forget the scene of Reed and Steve slow dancing."
And about his wife: "His abiding love for Laurene sustained him. He believed that love happened all the time, everywhere. In that most important way, Steve was never ironic, never cynical, never pessimistic."
And then there were lines like these, sprinkled throughout:
"Steve was humble."
"Steve liked to keep learning."
"Steve cultivated whimsy."
"With his four children, with his wife, with all of us, Steve had a lot of fun."
"He treasured happiness."
"He was an intensely emotional man."
His sister made sure in her eulogy that we knew that Steve Jobs was a lot more than just the guy who invented the iPhone. He was a brother and a husband and a father who knew the true value of what technology can so easily distract us from. Even if you build an iconic product, even one that lives on, what will be foremost in the minds of the people you care about most will be the memories you built in their lives. In her 1951 novel Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar has the Roman emperor meditating on his death: "[I]t seems to me as I write this hardly important to have been emperor."
And Thomas Jefferson's epitaph describes him as "author of the Declaration of American Independence ... and father of the University of Virginia." No mention of the presidency.
What the old adage that we should live every day as our last usually means is that we shouldn't wait until it's our last day on Earth to begin prioritizing the things that really matter.
Anyone with a few smartphones and a full email inbox knows that it's easy to live while not being aware we're living. So a Third Metric life would be one lived in a way that's mindful of what our eulogy will one day be. "I'm always relieved when someone is delivering a eulogy and I realize I'm listening to it," joked George Carlin. We may not be listening to our own eulogy, but we're actually writing it all the time, every day. The question is how much we're giving the eulogizer to work with.
This past summer an obituary of a Seattle woman named Jane Lotter, who died of cancer at 60, went viral. The author of the obit was Lotter herself.
"One of the few advantages of dying from Grade 3, Stage IIIC endometrial cancer, recurrent and metastasized to the liver and abdomen," she wrote, "is that you have time to write your own obituary." After giving a lovely and lively account of her life, she shows that she lived a life with the true definition of success in mind. "My beloved Bob, Tessa, and Riley," she writes. "My beloved friends and family. How precious you all have been to me. Knowing and loving each one of you was the success story of my life."
Just months before the historian Tony Judt died of ALS in 2010, he gave an amazing interview to Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. She asked him about his spiritual beliefs. He replied:
I don't believe in an afterlife. I don't believe in a single or multiple godhead. I respect people who do, but I don't believe it myself. But there's a big "but" which enters in here: I am much more conscious than I ever was, for obvious reasons, of what it will mean to people left behind once I'm dead. It won't mean anything for me, but it will mean a lot to them, and it's important for them, by which I mean my children or my wife or my close friends, that some spirit of me is, in a positive way, present in their lives, in their heads, in their imaginings and so on. So in one curious way I've come to believe in the afterlife as a place where I still have moral responsibilities, just as I do in this life except that I can only exercise them before I get there. Once I get there, it'll be too late. So no god, no organized religion, but a developing sense that there's something bigger than the world we live in, including after we die, and that we have responsibilities in that world.
So whether you believe in an afterlife, as I do, or not, by being fully present in your life and in the lives of those you love, you are creating your own afterlife and writing your own eulogy. It's a valuable lesson, even more so while we have the good fortune of being healthy and having the energy and freedom and lack of impediments to create a life of purpose and meaning.
It shouldn't take a near-death experience to remind us of what we're all going to lose one day. According to Colors magazine, something called "living funeral therapy" is becoming increasingly popular in South Korea, which has the highest suicide rate of developed countries. It can involve actually getting in a coffin and having it nailed shut, to experience a glimpse of the finality and closure of death. One operator sometimes has the participants make a list of the people in their lives who matter to them. One woman said the process made her realize she'd been neglecting her husband. "I feel like I've been reborn," she said. "I want to call my husband, to tell him 'thank you,' and 'sorry.'"
It's an extreme method, and hopefully most of us won't need to be nailed shut inside a coffin to get a sense of what we really value. But the good news is that if you're reading this, there's still time to live up to the best version of your eulogy.
Here are some of my favorite eulogies, courtesy of Alison Nastasi of The Atlantic. Do you have a favorite eulogy, or something in particular you remember from a eulogy you heard? Please use the comments section to share.
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